Point of VIEW.

A purely analytical perception...


PAKISTAN

 

Continued from page 1

The Government of Pakistan believes that former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her family misappropriated a billion dollars and took it from the country illegally.  Furthermore, Pakistan has done a workman like job in locating a good deal of it and has determined that nine countries are holding over $1.5 billion. Having isolated its location, authorities are now requesting help for locating the assets so that they may be frozen and returned to Pakistan.  The Government has officially filed corruption cases with the country's accountability commission against Benazir, her husband and her mother.  Senator Saifur Rehman, head of the Government's accountability commission, said that these cases "reveal accumulation of tremendous wealth by the Bhutto's through commissions and kickbacks."[1]

 

It seems as though the government has really caught Bhutto in the act, because Pakistani Officials have purchased for $1 million a locker full of documents that purportedly were stolen from Ms. Bhutto's family lawyer of many years.  These documents are said to contain enough information to send Ms. Bhutto and her family away for the next millennium or more.  Strangely, with all of the incriminating evidence that has surfaced, none of the Bhuttos has raised the defense that the documents may be phony or forgeries.  Even Mrs. Bhutto's mother seems to have benefited substantially from her daughter's position, which allowed her husband to extort both local and international firms that wanted to business with Pakistan.  Jet fighter contracts, customs fraud and precious gem monopolies only scratch the surface of this family's greed.

 

The New York Times devoted three months to an in depth investigation of the documents and in an article released on January 9, 1998, reported that, "Officials leading the inquiry in Pakistan say that the $100 million they have identified so far is only a small part of a windfall from corrupt activities.  They maintain that an inquiry begun in Islamabad just after Ms. Bhutto's dismissal in 1996 found evidence that her family and associates generated more that $1.5 billion in illicit profits through kickbacks in virtually every sphere of government activity - from rice deals, to the sell-off of state land, even rake-offs from state welfare schemes."  The institutions through which money was channeled read like a who's who of international banking, including Citibank, Union Bank of Switzerland and Barclays. 

 

Nevertheless, in spite of stealing everything that wasn't tacked down, the Bhutto family returned to their society substantial sums of money.  Why, in 1996 alone, almost  $7,000 in taxes was paid by the couple, a sum that the New York Times suggests was less than the weekly interest income from the Swiss accounts.  During that period though, only a few $100 million circulated through those international bank accounts.  What about 1993 and 1994 taxes?  How much did they pay then, one might ask?   Well, they didn't pay anything, but it was probably just an oversight because she was busy running the country as Prime Minister, and we all know how much time that takes.

 

There are still several comical punch lines that bear repeating to show the real nature of these virtuous people.  When the investigation of the Bhuttos first got under way, it was soon determined that the family had purchased a small property near London for $4 million, before extensive renovation costs.  Although caught red handed, in spite of offshore corporations having been set up to disguise the transaction, Bhutto's husband, Zardari said, "How can anyone think of buying a mansion in England when people in Pakistan don't have a roof over their heads?”  Bully for Zardari, but he certainly enjoyed living in the mansion.

 

Not to be outdone by her husband's unfettered wit, Ms. Bhutto determined to take on none other than the President of the United States, Bill Clinton as a butt of her humor.  She determined that Clinton was devoting too much time worrying about what was going on in Burma, and not enough worrying about her personal affairs and stated, "This is the most horrendous human rights record, what is happening to me, it is shocking to see that the Clinton Administration talks so much about Burma, when this is happening to a woman who leads the opposition here."  The Harvard-educated former Prime Minister added that the "Bhuttos have suffered so much for Pakistan," while shedding a tear at the right instant.  We certain feel that her sense of humor is the equal of her husband's.     

 

Pakistan has a long record of blocking access to bank accounts of international criminals.  Additionally, Pakistan has been an historic refuge for witnesses in cases where other governments have requested their extradition.  Furthermore, Pakistan has never signed a bilateral agreement in which it agreed to assist another country in instances where crimes have been committed.  So what has happened is a form of “the chickens coming home to roost.”  Although there is nothing that the nations of the world would like more than to have the funds stolen from Pakistan returned, they are somewhat restricted by the lack of cooperation agreements.  Eventually, something so important to all concerned will be compromised to everyone’s satisfaction.  It is interesting to note for the record that the countries sheltering international criminals are the same nations that will eventually have to deal with Pakistan’s problem.

 

If this did not complicate Benazir Bhutto's life enough, there is the small matter of the murder conspiracy case against her husband, who has been charged with executing Bhutto's own brother.  The former Prime Minister's brother was gunned down in Karachi shortly before Bhutto was thrown out of office on the corruption charges.  The place where the assassination occurred is not Bhutto territory, and the potentially politically motivated trial has moved the case along a pace that any "police state" would take great pride in.  They are asking for the death penalty and, considering the extent they have gone to rig the trial, they may well receive that verdict.

 

The Pakistan Government was ultimately successful in getting aid from Great Britain in determining the facts.  Naturally, the Bhutto family attempted to delay the proceeds by stating that one of their attorneys had been prevented by the Pakistan Government from leaving the country and the fact that he would not be available to help them in this case would cause them irreparable harm.  It ultimately became known that there was a long running battle between Farook Naek, their attorney, and the Pakistan tax collectors and that there was a substantial amount of income that he had overlooked when filing his tax return.  When the English Judge heard that the matter had nothing to do with the dynamic duo, he ordered the proceedings to commence relative to the determination of just how much of the Bhutto’s stolen money they had secreted away in jolly old England.

 

Not every one in Pakistan plays their cards from the top of the deck, even though the matter in England was a strange coincidence.  Consider that Bhutto’s successor Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif comes from Punjab, and in his home province he can do no wrong, and in fact can just about do whatever he wants.  That was bad news for Benazir Bhutto, since it seems that the High Court of Lahore, which is the capital of Punjab, had some serious questions to ask the lady about her finances.  Naturally, Bhutto has applied to have the case moved to the High Court in her hometown of Sindh, a motion that she certainly has no chance of winning.  If she shows up at all, they will probably throw her in the pokey and lose the key, and if she doesn’t show up, she is in contempt of court, and they will throw her in the pokey and lose the key.  Poor Benazir Bhutto.

           

In spite of all this, Benazir Bhutto remains the leader of the opposition party.  Not happy with efforts by the party in power to take away all of her hard earned graft and to execute her husband for such frivolous activities as murdering her brother, Ms. Bhutto is able to get in her licks against her enemies every now and then.

 

But it appeared that as hard as Ms Bhutto fought back, the Government had more ammunition.  On March 27, 1998, and an arrest warrant was issued for her by the Special Accountability Court, which charged her with making more than 1,000 illegal appointments to the Pakistan International Airline, which is owned by the government.  Not only did Ms. Bhutto publicly admit that the charges were true, but she indicated that this was only the tip of the iceberg and that she would shortly be indicted on other more serious charges.  Then she accused the government of wasting millions of dollars on a witch-hunt to get her. 

 

It seems that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was not happy with the way the country's Supreme Court was functioning and went public with his disgust.  The Supreme Court for its part, hit Sharif with contempt charges, which if allowed to stick would have forced his resignation and have sent him to jail.  Unrepentant, Nawaz, who had won his office with one of the largest majorities in Pakistani history, twisted Parliament's arm and had a law passed allowing Nawaz and eight other members of Parliament, along with three newspapers, to appeal the Supreme Court’s decision, should they be convicted.  Not yet satisfied with his sterling performance, he began rewriting the constitution to de-fang the power of the judiciary, while proposing legislation that will allow the Parliament to charge sitting judges with contempt citations.

 

Sharif was only warming up, for he determined that the Chief Justice's appointment was not constitutionally correct and petitioned the remaining fifteen members of the court to have Saajjad Ali Shah removed from his position.  In reprisal for Sharif's attack on the Court, the justices went on strike and closed the court down.  Furthermore, Shah obtained a legal opinion, which determined that any session of Parliament that took place to question his appointment would be illegal on its face.  The other justices of the Supreme Court have already determined that, at the very least, Shah should not have been appointed Chief Justice because he had little or no tenure.  On the other hand, they were all passed over for the position, and most of them have been smarting about that for some time.

 

This decision has created the additional turmoil of causing campaigning among the justices for Shah's Office and has destabilized the entire court.  In the meantime, Shah dismissed the current session of his own judges as illegal, and headed off to see President Leghari.  Shah had indicated to Leghari what was going on so, the President had the Army Chief of Staff on hand when Shah arrived at Leghari's residence.  These talks went nowhere, and predictably the warring Supreme Court justices divided themselves into two adverse factions and were placed under armed guard.  If it is possible, the government continued to disintegrate, and the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Abid Hasswan Minto, told reporters that he could no longer be sure who the Chief Justice of was and he was not particularly sanguine about when or if he would ever find out. 

 

Sharif still had some other ideas about how to win the political war.  He organized a substantial number of his constituents and had them invade the Supreme Court Building while the contempt hearing was on the docket.  This caused a hasty postponement and closed down the Court for the day.  He also took on President Leghari and blamed him for conspiracies as well.  The Muslim League, of which Sharif is the senior member, prepared impeachment papers to have the office of the presidency eliminated.    

 

This civil war started when Nawaz alleged that he was the victim of a conspiracy, but his actions brought about a constitutional crisis, which then paralyzed the Pakistani Government.  The Supreme Court has become engaged in a hearing to determine what it will do about the legislation Nawaz had enacted, and after they have ruled on that, the high court will determine the penalties for his contempt actions.  The betting has been almost 100% on the side of the Supreme Court overturning his constitutional changes and then sentencing him to jail.  Meanwhile, Ms. Bhutto cheers from the sidelines.

 

But there was a wild card still in the pack.  What all three sides feared the most had now come to pass, and the Army went on alert and canceled all leaves.  The Army took the additional ominous precaution of canceling a trip by the head of the United States Central Command to Pakistan.  It has exposed a power vacuum between the opposing political parties, and many experts on Pakistan believe that the Army have already made a deal with one side or another.  The political parties have called on their followers to take to the streets of Islamabad in protest over one thing or another, but they have yet identify what their followers are supposed to be demonstrating about.  The obvious danger was that massive simultaneous demonstrations by these opposing groups will not help construct a peaceful resolution of the political differences.  Clearly, the country was headed for some form of martial law or civil strife.

 

The bickering ended when President Leghari resigned under duress and Shah was bounced out of the Supreme Court.  The speaker of the Senate has become acting President, a successor to Shah has been appointed Chief Justice and a new election to name a new President has been announced.  The stock market rallied on the changes, which were expected to restore calm to the troubled waters.  However, one must recognize the system that promoted these changes is constitutionally flawed, or the incident could not have occurred in the first place.  Now, with Pakistan's economy even in worse shape than before, no matter who comes out ahead in this battle to the political death, the country will be the big loser, not the politicians.

 

Thus, as we have seen, the Pakistani Government is handling their business in their usual manner: the opposition leader is investigated for corruption and graft, her husband is on trail for murder, the Prime Minister is on trial for contempt, as are his highest ranking cohorts, the President has been removed from office, the Supreme Court is in chaos and the Army is about to make everything else a mute issue.  This is “business as usual” in Pakistan.

 

The Prime Minister became deathly afraid of what the Army could do, so when the chief of the military flew into the nation’s capital for a meeting, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif allowed the plane to circle, but not land.  The plain became extremely low of fuel, and at this point, people in the control tower indicated that landing permission would not be granted, signaling a death sentence for the head of the military.  However, he had grown up among these people and was ready for almost any contingency, so he just had the army take over the airport.  His place landed safely, but on gas fumes:

 

On 12 October 1999, the Pakistani army led by General Pervez Musharraf ousted the civilian government headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a coup.  The overthrow of a legitimately constituted civilian government by the army for the fourth time in Pakistan's 52-year history has underscored the question of political stability and viability of democracy in the country.

 

  From an arms control and nonproliferation perspective, the military takeover raises significant questions about nuclear stability in South Asia.  Concerns within the arms control community have centered around five issues: the removal of civilian filters in the nuclear decision-making process; reported divisions within the higher echelons of Pakistan's armed forces that may impact on the custody of nuclear weapons; whether the replacement of a civilian government with military hardliners will result in the intensification of the sub-conventional war between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, with risks of escalation to the conventional and nuclear levels and nuclear crisis stability; whether the imposition of additional economic sanctions on Pakistan by the United States and international financial institutions will weaken the Pakistani government's commitment to export controls on nuclear, missile, and other dual-use technologies; and finally, Pakistan's commitment to arms control measures such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.”[2]

 



[1]  The New York Times International January 2, 1998.

 

[2] Kampani, CNS Research Associate, October 1999.

 

 

 

 

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